MSI Z170A Krait Gaming Motherboard Review
The name Krait has been a round a while now and, as far as I can tell a Krait is a form of venomous snake that is often seen to be black with white stripes. But why is this relevant? Well because MSI have been using this name on their motherboards for a while because (you got it!) they are black ‘n white. And today I will be taking my first look at one of these venomous black ‘n white boards, this is the latest MSI Z170A Krait Gaming.
The MSI Z170A Krait Gaming is a narrower ATX based (see main review for dimensions) motherboard equipped with the latest LGA 1151 socket therefore supporting the latest Intel Skylake processors. The board has support for both Nvidia’s SLI technology as well as AMD’s CrossFire technology and is equipped with three x16 PCIe 3.0 lanes. There are four DDR4 RAM slots supporting up to 3600MHz(OC) modules in a Dual Channel configuration. In addition to this there is also a single M.2 slot supporting both PCIe and SATA devices with speeds up to 36 GB/s, x6 SATA 6GB/s ports and one SATA Express port. The board is also equipped with a Realtek ALC1150 8-channel (7.1) on-board soundcard with Audio Boost 3 as well as an Intel Gigabit LAN adapter.
NOTE (1): The Intel Z170 Express Chipset supports 6th Gen Intel Core i3/i5/i7 processors, and Intel Pentium and Celeron processors for Socket LGA1151. The new Socket 1151 is not backward compatible with previous Intel Core CPUs and, at the time of writing only Skylake processors are compatible with these motherboards. Also another big change for Skylake is the fact that there’s no support for DDR3. DDR4 is now king, although there’s only support for Dual Channel memory and not Quad Channel; for that you’ll need to look at Intel’s X99 platform. The bottom line here is that a new Skylake based Gaming Rig’s going to comprise of a new Motherboard, CPU and RAM.
NOTE (2): Due to the XHCI Driver not being incorporated into Windows 7, USB devices will not function on 100 Series motherboards when trying to install Windows 7. Windows 8.1 and above will work just fine. Further information can be found here.
The MSI Z170A Krait Gaming came to pcG in a smart predominately black box with the background resembling the skin of a snake. There’s not much else on the front of the box other than the brand, product name, range (Gaming Series / Performance) and conformation that this board utilises an Intel Z170 chipset.
The back of the box features a lot more information. On the left we have a large image of the Krait motherboard itself in all of its black ‘n white glory, highlighting the DDR4 Boost and the Steel Armor. Over on the right MSI goes on to highlight the following: Gaming LAN, LAN Protect, Audio Boost 3, Military Class 5, USB 3.1 (Type R) and Game Boost. Below this we find a specifications section (See Specifications/Features below) and a overview of the rear I/O panel.
On opening the rather dented looking box we see that the motherboard sits atop a basic cardboard frame in an anti-static bag. Protection and presentation is merely adequate here IMHO. Below this cardboard tray we find the rest of the motherboard’s associated accessories and paperwork.
There’s not too much in the box but we have the essentials; this comprises of a Quick Installation Guide, User Guide, Drivers & Utilities DVD, I/O shield and x2 SATA cables. There’s no screw for the M.2 socket as it is already attached to the motherboard.
At the time of writing this review, the MSI Z170A Krait Gaming is retailing on Amazon for approximately £107 and comes with a 3 year warranty.
courtesy of MSI
• Supports 6th Gen Intel® Core™ i3/i5/i7 processors, and Intel® Pentium® and Celeron® processors for Socket LGA1151
• Z170 Express Chipset
• 4 x DDR4 memory slots, support up to 64GB
• 3 x PCIe 3.0 x16 slots (support x16/x0/x4 or x8/x8/x4 modes)
• 1 x HDMI™ port, support a maximum resolution of 4096×2160@24Hz, 2560×1600@60Hz
• Supports 3-Way AMD® CrossFire™ Technology
• Intel® Z170 Express Chipset
* SATA5 and SATA6 ports will be unavailable when installing the M.2 module in M.2 slot.
• Intel® Z170 Express Chipset
• ASMedia® ASM1142 Chipset
• Intel® Z170 Express Chipset
• Realtek® ALC1150 Codec
• 1 x Intel® I219-V Gigabit LAN controller
First impressions of the MSI Z170A Krait Gaming are really very good, I myself very much like the black’n white colour scheme as it fits well with modern day Gaming products as well as the trend of white cases. So it’s a good looking motherboard then? Yes! It also sports a good array of features: including SLI and CrossFire support, M.2 (PCIe & SATA), 8 channel audio and USB 3.1. But I’m not a lover of its narrow ATX format as it makes no sense to me! It’s not small enough for MATX or ITX cases, yet it’s smaller than ATX and that’s the case you’ll need to install it!? It would also appear that the layout has been somewhat compromised. Let’s take a closer look…
Looking at what I would call the right side of the board and working left to right; it becomes immediately obvious that not only does the MSI Z170A Krait Gaming have a narrow PCB but the layout seems to have been compromised also. In the far left corner we have four vertical SATA 6GB/s ports that are not only vertical (which doesn’t help!) but are also badly placed should you be looking at dual GPU setup! Above these ports we find the South Bridge with its smart MSI Gaming Series logo. To the right of this we find a jumper that I have no idea about (even more so as it’s not covered in the manual either!?). Next we have the vertical mounted USB 3.0 port followed by the main 24-pin power connector. Just to the right of this we have the first of three System Fan headers (SYSFAN3) all of which are PWM controlled, and in the corner we find the first of two CPU Fan headers (CPUFAN2). Obviously this side of the board is also dominated by the four DIMM slots supporting up to 64 GB of 3600MHz (OC) DDR4 memory.
Looking at the opposite side of the board (the left) and again working left to right, we first find the main motherboard IO panel (more on this later). The rest of this edge of the board is dominated by the on-board soundcard this 7.1 CH HD Audio setup is powered by a Realtek ALC1150 Audio Codec and features MSI’s Audio Boost 3 technology. If you look carefully you’ll also see the line that isolates (and illuminates white(ish)) the soundcard from the rest of the PCB. To the right of the audio circuitry we find the ASMedia chip that controls the Krait’s additional USB 3.1 ports.
Looking at the PCIe 3.0 and PCI lanes we see that we have a full compliment of seven lanes and these are wired up in the following way; the first PCIe slot is a x1 slot this is then followed (left to right) by a x16 slot (with Steel Armor), two x1 slots, a second x16 slot (with Steel Armor), a full length PCI slot and a x16 PCIe slot. If one Graphics Card is used then the first x16 slot runs at x16 speed, if x2 Graphics Cards are used then the first and second slot will run at x8 speed while if three cards are used (Crossfire only) then the last slot will run at x4 speed (x8/x8/x4).
Looking at what is effectively the top of the board we can see that it’s dominated by the CPU Power phase heatsinks and the LGA1151 Socket. We also find the CPU 8-pin power socket in its normal position near the right side of the board. Over in the middle of the board we also find the second of three System Fan headers (SYSFAN1). To the left of the top heatsink we also find the second of two CPU Fan headers (CPUFAN1).
Looking at the bottom of the board and again working from left to right, we have an HD Audio header in the left corner, followed by the last of three System Fan headers (SYSFAN2). Next to this we find a single Thunderbolt port followed by two Front Panel headers (JFP2 & JFP1) and a TPM module connector. Next we have x2 USB 2.0 headers (USB2 & USB1) and then in the far corner we find x3 SATA ports with one being a SATA Express port. In this image note the use of a sticker for the product name, that looks a little cheap to me! 🙁
Flipping the board over allows us to further appreciate the matte black PCB. Note also that the main heatsinks are screwed on and not just stuck on, always handy that when you pick up the motherboard by one of those heatsinks, that just seem to look like little handles to me! 😉 We can also see why the top of the motherboard area look as clean as it does, because all of the logos are on the back! We can also see that the x16 PCIe slots are also soldered to the board for extra strength as part of the MSI Steel Armor upgrade.
Looking at some of the other main features of the MSI Z170A Krait Gaming motherboard we have MSI’s latest Audio Boost 3 on-board sound card supported by a Realtek ALC1150 codec. This 8.1 channel HD audio setup is isolated from the rest of the board and should provide Studio Grade quality and supports high impedance headphones by way of its dual headphone amplifiers.
Looking at that Intel LGA1151 socket and its associated power phases and heatsinks, we get a better look at the heatsinks and their smart black ‘n white design. Also note that the heatsinks themselves are screwed through the motherboard.
This time around MSI have opted for an Intel i219 LAN port instead of the usual Killer LAN. This port and its associated software is designed to deliver high performance when Gaming. This is done by reducing CPU overhead whilst offering very high TCP and UDP throughput. On top of this sits MSI Gaming LAN Manager software allowing you to prioritize your Gaming traffic above all else.
Finally we come to one of my favourite technologies of recent years and that’s the M.2 port. This port supports both PCIe and SATA M.2 SSDs with transfer speeds up to 32B GB/s! I’m a huge fan of discrete devices such as this, perfect for keeping that all important Rig build clean and tidy, no more wires either, woohoo! 😉
A new build was put together to house the MSI Z170A Krait Gaming motherboard with a new Intel Core i5-6600K Skylake CPU and new DDR4 memory in the form of 8GB of G.Skill RipJaws 2400MHz. The following components were also used:
|Case||Cooler Master HAF XB||Power Supply||Corsair Professional Series AX 760i|
|Motherboard||MSI Z170A Krait Gaming||CPU||Intel Core I5-6600K Processor|
|CPU Cooler||Noctua NH-U12S||RAM||G Skill Ripjaws 4 16GB|
|Graphics Card||XFX AMD Radeon R9 290X DD Black Edition||SSD||HyperX FURY 120GB|
Installation of the MSI Z170A Krait Gaming was easy enough, but was effectively made all the more easier by the fact that the motherboard is around 10mm narrower than normal, yet it’s still an ATX motherboard!? Why did it make install easier, because of the width? Well yes sort of, but also due to the fact that I didn’t have to use all of the screws! 😉 The motherboard assembly was simple enough consisting of the board itself, our test Intel Core i5-6600K Skylake CPU, a Noctua NH-U12S CPU Cooler and 8GB of G.Skill RipJaws 4 2400MHz memory. With the motherboard assembly complete I installed it by way of the required (and rather unusual) 6 screws.
All necessary SATA cables were connected to the motherboard, I used the white ports nearest the edge of the board (SATA3 & SATA5), as the others are just too awkwardly placed IMHO. The Seagate 2TB SSHD and HyperX Fury SSD test drives were then attached to the other ends of the cables. All of the relevant power cables from the Corsair Professional Series AX760i were then plugged into the Krait along with all of the case fans. Final cables included USB 3.0 and HD Audio along with the always rather fiddly Front Panel wires. That just left the installation of our toasty test GPU the XFX Radeon R9 290X DD Black Edition! Now it’s time for some testing…
For all of our Z170 and H170 testing we will be using Windows 10 (DirectX 12), therefore a new installation of Windows 10 64Bit was performed and the following Drivers were installed. The latest MSI Drivers were used and can been obtained (here). Although the MSI Z170A Krait Gaming has its Drivers and Utilities available on the supplied DVD, we here at pcG try to keep up with the latest Drivers, BIOS and software where possible.
- Intel Chipset Driver (Intel Chipset Driver ver: 10.1.1.9)
- Audio Driver (Realtek High Definition Audio Driver ver: 22.214.171.12499)
- Intel Gigabit LAN (Intel Network Drivers ver: 20.2)
- USB 3.0/3.1 (ASMedia USB3.0/3.1 Drivers ver: 126.96.36.199)
- AMD Catalyst™ Software Suite (15.7.1 / Display Driver version 15.20.1062.1004)
During testing the following tools/benchmarks & games were used/played:
As seems to be the norm these days the MSI Z170A Krait Gaming is equipped with a dual UEFI the default is EZ mode (show above left) while there’s also an Advanced mode too, above right. All of the screenshots below show the Advanced mode that’s actually nice and easy to navigate to be honest. I very much like MSI’s Click Bios 5 and it’s especially cool now that it sporting that Krait black ‘n white theme! 😉
As you can see to dial in our 4.5GHz overclock I simply went to the OC section of the UEFI while in Advanced mode and changed the CPU Ratio from Auto to 45, yes guys it really is that easy! To enable XMP to ensure our 8GB of G.Skill Ripjaws DDR4 RAM ran at its rated maximum speed (2400MHz), I simply turned on XMP on the main screen (top left, next to Game Boost). We did not use the Game Boost feature that will automatically overclock your CPU (assuming its a 6600K) to 4.1 GHz.
For our testing of Z170 motherboards using our Intel Skylake Core i5-6600K test CPU we will be testing at both Stock (3.5GHz) and at an overclocked 4.5GHz. The CPU-Z screenshots below show the various states (Idle, Stock & Overclocked) of the CPU and its associated voltage.
- Benchmark Results (CPU @ STOCK: 3.5GHz (1.200) : RAM @ 2133MHz) with XFX AMD Radeon R9 290X DD Black Edition
|Metro Last Light||1920×1080||78.00|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0||1920×1080||1418|
- Benchmark Results (CPU @ STOCK: 4.5GHz (1.264v) : RAM @ 2400MHz) with XFX AMD Radeon R9 290X DD Black Edition
|Metro Last Light||1920×1080||79.00|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0||1920×1080||1417|
Well I can tell you the numbers above are pretty darn good and in-line with pretty much every Z170 based motherboard we have tested before. So while the MSI Z170A Krait Gaming motherboard may be a budget conscious board its performance is up there with the best of them. In fact during all of the testing even while heavily overclocked the Krait never put a foot wrong. 🙂
What’s also interesting and worth taking note of is the fact that there’s very little difference in the performance figures for the stock and overclocked tests, when looking at the pure Graphics related tests (Unigine Heaven & Metro). This we have seen before and simply shows that throughout most of our Graphics testing the PC is simply GPU bound, meaning that we, at no point are left waiting for the processor. Of course the 3DMark tests show a slightly different story, but this is because this test does have some CPU only sections where an increase in CPU speed can be of benefit.
There are so many features and so much software that comes with (or is downloadable) the MSI Z170A Krait Gaming, that to try and cover it would be a review in itself! I’m also not a big fan of software so for me the only software that I’m likely to install is MSI’s Command Center utility and that in itself is a portal to a handful of other options. But I have to admit I do rather like MSI’s one stop shop Command Center, again here sporting the Krait black ‘n white theme.
Software (Command Center (CPU/DRAM/GAME BOOST))
By default on load you are taken to the CPU tab, here you can see the current state of your CPU and its associated Cores. As you can see in the image above the screenshot was taken while our Intel Core i5-6600K was overclocked at 4.5GHz. Here you can also overclock (via the software) each core individually or All Cores and also adjust the Base Clock. On the right you can also tune the CPU’s fan speed.
Moving over to the DRAM tab we can see the current overclocked state of our G.Skill Ripjaws DDR4 memory, currently running at its XMP setting of 2400MHz. You can also see the current voltage applied and adjust it should you wish to push for higher overclocks or tighter timings.
NOTE: Both the IGP (Integrated Graphics Processor) section on this tab and on the main screen are disabled as we have a dedicated Graphics Card installed.
The GAME BOOST tab is the equivalent of what used to be called OC Genie and will (by default) overclock you 6600K to 4.1GHz should you turn it on. Note that this feature can also be turned on via the UEFI. What’s a little odd is that when I first looked at this tab there was more than one option, yet when I came back to it later the multiple options had disappeared and was replaced with just the one!?
Various other options are also available via MSI’s Command Center including various monitoring popups accessed via the Information button at the bottom of the Window. This will allow you to take a look at Motherboard, CPU, Memory and HW Monitor. The settings button will allow you to record the state of the PC and also allow you to set Warnings when certain limits (like temperature) are reached. Finally the Advanced button allows access to advanced control over the Voltages, Fans (above left) DRAM and the on-board sensors (above right). All in all a great little piece of software IMHO! 🙂
I must admit I was not expecting to like the MSI Z170A Krait Gaming quite as much as I do, although I’m unsure why! This Z170 based Gaming board pretty much has it all, it’s certainly got the looks and the performance and considering its cost it’s equipped with a good feature set to boot!
The Krait is a venomous black ‘n white snake and that’s why the MSI Z170 Krait Gaming arrived at pcG in a predominately black ‘n white box with the front of the box adorned with the scales of a snake. The contents within were merely packaged and presented adequately, although the packaging is unlikely to bite you in the event of a shipping mishap! There’s not too much in the box either, but the essentials are there; I/O shield, x2 SATA cables, SLI Bridge and a manual.
Once out of the box it soon becomes apparent that this ATX board is not ATX size, it’s actually about 10mm narrower!? Now I’ve seen this before on one of the ASRock boards and I have to say I’m not a fan! Maybe it’s a money saving exercise but the board layout seems to now be compromised and there’s no support for that edge of the board any more. And, don’t forget this is where you press on the edge of the board as this is where most of the sockets are. Sorry MSI that’s where you lost the one and only (Design/Quality) point! 🙁
But from here on in the Krait really begins to shine, I personally love the Krait black ‘n white design as it looks so cool. It will also go well with pretty much any other colour you may wish to add. There’s also no odd colour lighting on the board; no Red, Green blues etc. Just the XMP white LED and the lighting of the PCB audio isolation at the back of the board, that seems a little green to me, but I think is should be white!
Installation of the board is as easy as one would expect, especially as there’s now three less screws to fit! 😉 The board booted first time and I had no issues with updating the BIOS version to the latest (A.4) via the M-Flash utility within the UEFI. During testing the MSI Z170A Krait Gaming never put a foot wrong even when overclocked and put in a performance as good as any Z170 based board seen before. Overclocking to 4.5GHz via the UEFI was as simple as changing the CPU Ratio from Auto to 45, and XMP was simply enabled via the button within the UEFI. It really doesn’t get much easier than this…
Even the Command Center software I kind of liked and that’s a big deal for me as I’m not a fan of software (maybe it’s because I’m an ex-programmer!?). It’s a nice simple, good looking one stop shop piece of software for all of your Gaming, Overclocking and Monitoring needs.
Overall then I think the MSI Z170A Krait Gaming motherboard is a damn good Gaming motherboard, especially when you consider its unique design and its very reasonable price (approx £107). It looks good, it performs very well and has some impressive features such as SLI support, Crossfire support and a high speed M.2 port. A great budget concious Z170 Gaming motherboard.
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Many thanks to MSI for providing this sample for review